Doctoral Dissertation: Strengthening Food Security in Rural Ethiopia

Cochrane, L. 2017. Strengthening Food Security in Rural Ethiopia. Doctoral Dissertation, University of British Columbia. 


Abstract: Food insecurity in rural areas of southern Ethiopia is widespread; in recent years over half of all communities in this region have been reliant upon emergency support. However, food security status varies significantly from year to year, as the region experiences variations in rainfall patterns. Research is required to better understand how food security can be strengthened. To do so, this research was driven by three research questions. First, what makes smallholder farmers in southern Ethiopia vulnerable to food insecurity. Second, according to the literature, the adoption of programs and services is low, and thus a community-based assessment was undertaken to understand why. The third question reflected on the methodology – a participatory, co-produced approach, evaluating whether this form of engaged research enabled positive change. The findings suggest that vulnerability to food insecurity differs by scale. At the community level, access to irrigation infrastructure strengthened food security, and was the most transformative difference between the communities. Within communities, food security distribution was complex and few generalizations can be made. The participatory processes identified that research often makes invisible the purposeful and insightful choices farmers make. When surveyed, they are asked to provide generalizations about input use, crop choice and practices, when in reality each crop, input and practice varies. Similarly, some commonly used measures of vulnerability can also be expressions of security; aggregated averages obfuscate localized inequality. For some programs and services, adoption was found to be quite high – it was only when all services were analyzed as a package that adoption was low. However, not all programs and services served the food insecure households, and the reasons for this are explored in detail. The participatory, co-produced approach enabled unique research questions and metrics and added significant value to the research process, which may also enable long-term positive change to programs and services.


Full text is available for download here.


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Funded MA: Northern Agriculture and Food

Project: Agricultural values and food sovereignty possibilities on the edge of Northern Ontario

Graduate Program: Public Issues Anthropology MA – University of Guelph
Deadline: February 1, 2017

SSHRC-supported graduate funding for students interested in issues of agriculture, food sovereignty, agricultural values and ethics, local food systems, and rural livelihoods. Seeking 1-2 MA students who are planning to begin their graduate studies in September 2017, and who will be applying to the Public Issues Anthropology MA program at the University of Guelph. The value of the funding is between $7000-$10,000 each year, for up to two years.

The application deadline for the Public Issues Anthropology MA is February 1, 2017.

If you are interested in this funding opportunity, please feel free to contact Dr. Elizabeth Finnis.

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Silent Violence: Food, Famine & Peasantry

I enjoy reading books in the international development sphere than are dated. Sometimes it is encouraging to see how far the sector has come, and at other times it is depressing how little has changed. These books are often sources of inspiration for ideas, while at the same time provide a better grounding on where ideas come from – we often see a recent citation about a particular concept, when in fact it has much deeper, unacknowledged roots. Thus, I dug into Michael Watts nearly 700 page tome: "Silent Violence: Food, Famine & Peasantry in Northern Nigeria" (1983). The book was written the same year as another essential reading, "Rural Development" by Chambers (1983).

Watts sets out the key research questions at the outset: "Why has this crisis arisen [1980s], what are its historic origins, and why do food systems periodically break down completely? Why, in other words, do famines occurs and how have their genesis and effects changed through time?" (p. xxi). The author takes readers on a journey in this book exploring these questions in the context of northern Nigeria, and more specifically the area of the former Sokoto Caliphate. In addressing these questions, the author focuses on "the social dimensions of drought and, as a corollary, on the social production of famine" (p. xxii) as opposed to the environmental or biological foci that were common in the 1980s (and in some places, such as in the IPCC, maintain this focus.

This detailed study integrates geography, history and anthropology in unique ways. The data sources were not always plentiful and Watts is exceedingly open about the problems with data, his methods and the potential for biases. For example, in describing the work, he states "what emerges is a small, patchy and perhaps unrepresentative picture; yet to report to large-scale sampling on such sensitive subject matters would, in my opinion, magnify the error factor to a wholly intolerable degree" (p. 35).

The context of the book is time bound – as Watts engages leading thinkers of the moment (Scott and Popkin, in particular), however the debates continue in various manifestations, such as the economic systems wherein the poorest and most vulnerable benefit: "Although the relationships between colonialism and household security in Northern Nigeria were often ambiguous, it would nonetheless be wrongheaded in my opinion to conclude, as Popkin (1979, p. 33) does, based on his Asian experience, that the "expansion of markets is of particular benefit to poorer peasants"; or indeed that "peasants clearly benefit from the growth of law and order … and wider systems of trade, credit and communications… [which] helped keep [them] alive during local famines" (p. 81).

Throughout the book, and likely one of the reasons I enjoyed this book, is a prominent role of, and reflection about, politics. For example: "All of this is not to lessen the burden and the suffering of the famine or to delegitimize Sahelian poverty. But it is now clear that answers to many critical questions that pertain to conditions in the early 1970s are political and many more ultimately unknowable." (p. 374) Watts returns to this conclusion later as well (p. 464-465). There are also political responses, in addition to decisions of politicians: "The whole arena of labor control was characterized by constant struggle and peasant resistance, if not revolt, against explicit coercions by the state, taxes, or the voracious appetites of the buying agents. The evidence suggests that localized opposition, withdrawal, tax evasions, flight, desertion, sabotage, robbery, and religiously inspired revolt were a vital chapter in the history of the Hausa peasantry." (p. 364) While much has changed in the three decades since publication, thinking and acting politically remains one of the conversations that has continued, as limited progress has been made in putting it into practice.


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Funded PhD: Northern Food Systems

Lakehead University, in partnership with the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems and the Food: Locally Embedded, Globally Engaged (FLEdGE) project, is looking for an exceptional candidate to undertake PhD research on issues of northern food systems sustainability. We are offering funding of $10,000/year for four years (providing satisfactory performance). Additional funding may be available through a Graduate Assistant position and/or scholarships, as determined by the admitting program. Given the scope and potential impacts of northern food systems, it is particularly critical to understand their dynamics as they emerge and evolve in response to their surroundings within a context geared primarily toward the dominant agri-industrial system. Issues of focus may include, northern food policy, diverse governance systems, alternative food networks, Indigenous food sovereignty, regional agricultural and land-based identity, and harvesting, forest and freshwater foods. Familiarity with and/or interest in complex adaptive systems theory would be considered an asset. The successful Ph.D. candidate will be expected to actively work toward establishing a strong publication record, assist in seeking external funding, and work effectively in the multi-disciplinary field of northern food systems sustainability including stakeholder/community partners.

To apply for this position, please send a letter of interest, a CV, transcripts and the names of two references via email to Charles Levkoe by no later than December 1, 2016. Candidates will also need to apply (by the appropriate deadline) to undertake their PhD in either Forestry Sciences or Psychological Sciences at Lakehead University. The student will support ongoing research on northern food systems and research from the Food Security Research Network starting in September 2017.

For more information on the potential supervisors:

Charles Z Levkoe https://www.lakeheadu.ca/users/L/clevkoe

Rebecca Schiff https://www.lakeheadu.ca/users/S/rschiff

Connie Nelson https://www.lakeheadu.ca/users/N/cnelson

Mirella Stroink https://www.lakeheadu.ca/users/S/mstroink

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Logan Cochrane

logan.cochrane@gmail.com

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